The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
(1906-7) by Swedish Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlöf is one of the most popular children's books from Sweden (along with Pippi Longstocking
). It has been translated into over 40 languages, plus films and animations. As a testament to its popularity, the Swedish 20 krona banknote
has a picture of Lagerlöf on the front, and Nils on the back; and the Swedish national children's book award was named the Nils Holgersson Award, established in 1950.
Lagerlöf wrote the book at the request of the Swedish National Teacher's Society, as a school book; but rather than a dry geography text, she wrote an entertaining literary story, modeled after Rudyard Kipling's animal tales. It's been required reading in Swedish schools ever since, many children and adults read it for pleasure. A short literary history of the novel can be read at the Atlas of Sweden
Nils is a 14-year old boy who is lazy and disobedient. When his parents leave him home alone, an elf chastises him for his misbehaviour by turning him into a tiny vulnerable imp. The smaller Nils has one new power, he can understand the language of the animals. Befriended by a flock of wild geese, he flys northward over Sweden into Lapland and back again in a series of adventures. From the air they can see a large part of Sweden and thus Lagerlöf is able to include a lot of historical and geographical material into the story. Each chapter is a mini story, often a retelling of a fairy tale or myth with Nils and his animals as the protagonists. The stories weave with characters re-appearing in later episodes. Nils learns about compassion, justice and respect of nature and returns home a better person. It is ultimately an optimistic book and beloved by many. It's a long book and even though the English translation has already been slightly abridged it could be abridged further. But it leaves a strong impression and has an epic quality, it is easy to see why it is so popular.
The LibriVox recording
by Lars Rolander is a perfect retelling. It is both volumes.
[STB | 4048 | 052010]